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Last updated on November 22, 2022

When it comes to meat and dairy products, there is no question about their place (or lack of) in a vegan diet. Honey, on the other hand, tends to spark debate amongst vegans and non-vegans alike. Since honey is an insect byproduct, people tend to wonder if it falls into the vegan category or not. Before diving into the topic, let’s remind ourselves of what it means to be vegan.

Being vegan means abstaining from eating, exploiting, and causing harm to animals.

Some people might argue that since bees are insects, and honey is made from bees, honey is exempt from the Vegan What Not to Eat book. Well, sorry to rain on your parade. Bees are in fact part of the animal kingdom, and for that reason, honey is not vegan.

Why is honey not vegan?

Since honey is produced by insects, and insects are animals, honey is not vegan. Bees create honey in order for their colony to survive winter. By consuming honey, you are taking a colony of bees’ lifelong-earned honey away from them. It takes 12 worker bees their entire life to create just enough honey to sweeten a cup of tea.

At a commercial level, bees are severely exploited and abused in order to create honey on a profitable and mass scale. For example, after the honey is stolen from the hive, it’s often replaced with highly processed corn syrup that is not optimal for their health. We also can’t ignore the many deaths that occur within industrial bee colonies due to pesticides, parasites, and poor nutrition. Not to mention, the injuries that bees incur while their honey is being stolen from their hives.

What Are The Best Vegan Honey Substitutes?

Looking for a tasty vegan honey substitute? You’ve come to the right place! Here are 10 alternatives to honey that are vegan-friendly.

#1 Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a sugary syrup made from the agave plant. Since it has a similar texture and consistency, agave syrup is the most common alternative to honey. Compared to honey, agave nectar is darker and has a more neutral flavour. Honey can be substituted with agave nectar using equal parts. That means half a cup of honey can be substituted with half a cup of agave nectar.

#2 Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is the most popular and easily accessible vegan alternative to honey, especially for us Canadians. Compared to the taste of honey, maple syrup has a more complex flavour. It also has a thinner consistency, making it great for drizzling over pancakes or oatmeal. Maple syrup is less rich in vitamins when compared to honey, but it is a great source of minerals. Just 1 tablespoon of maple syrup contains 33% of your required daily manganese intake. Maple syrup also contains zinc, copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

#3 Coconut Nectar

Coconut nectar is another great honey alternative that is relatively easy to find in most health food stores. It’s a great source of iron and zinc and even contains 17 different amino acids and antioxidants. It has a caramel-like flavour that isn’t too overpowering. Coconut nectar has a much lower glycemic index (GI) rating than honey, making it a healthier alternative.

#4 Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup, also known as rice malt syrup, is a liquid sweetener that is made from brown rice. It’s an excellent honey alternative since it has the same golden colour. However, it has more of a nutty taste and its thick and sticky consistency is closer to molasses than honey. Since it’s made up of maltotriose, glucose, and maltose, rice malt syrup is a popular choice for those wanting to avoid fructose.

#5 Molasses

Anyone who’s had molasses before knows it has a very distinct colour, texture, and flavour. For that reason, substituting honey with molasses in a recipe will potentially alter the resulting flavour. We love molasses as a honey substitute since it’s rich in antioxidants and minerals like iron, selenium, copper, and calcium. If you are substituting honey with molasses, we recommend choosing light molasses and substituting at a 1:1 ratio.

#6 Yacon Root Syrup

Yacon root syrup is another vegan honey alternative that just so happens to be healthier as well. It has about a third of the calories of honey and contains prebiotic fiber that nourishes your gut. Since it contains fiber, it also has a much lower glycaemic index than honey. Similar to coconut nectar, yacon syrup has a subtle caramel-like earthy flavour and contains about half the amount of sugar as honey. For that reason, when substituting honey with yacon syrup, you’ll have to use twice as much yacon syrup as you would honey.

#7 Dandelion Syrup

Dandelion syrup, or dandelion honey, is not as easy to find in stores, but it’s the best vegan honey alternative in terms of flavour. Compared to other honey alternatives on this list, dandelion syrup tastes very similar to honey. Its similar taste comes from the fact that honey bees get a lot of their nectar from dandelion flowers. While it’s not popular enough to go out and buy, you can easily make your own dandelion syrup at home if the season is right. In fact, all you need is just a large bucket full of dandelions and water to make homemade dandelion syrup.

#8 Sorghum Syrup

Sorghum syrup is another vegan honey substitute that has a darker shade comparable to molasses. However, sorghum syrup isn’t as thick as molasses and has its own distinct taste. Compared to honey, sorghum syrup has a toasty, caramel-like flavour that is more profound than honey. In terms of its sweetness level, sorghum syrup is comparable to honey.

#9 Barley Malt Syrup

If you can get your hands on some, barley malt syrup is another vegan honey alternative that we love. It has a similar flavour and consistency to molasses, however, it’s much less sweet. Compared to honey, barley malt syrup is half as sweet. For that reason, when replacing honey with barley malt syrup in a recipe, you’ll have to add twice the amount of barley malt syrup as you would honey.

#10 Date Syrup

Date syrup is another excellent honey alternative with a much richer nutritional profile. It’s the only honey alternative that contains fibre. In addition to fibre, date syrup is rich in B vitamins and vitamin K. It also contains iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and more. In fact, date syrup contains more than triple the amount of potassium found in maple syrup.

Date syrup is the least processed honey alternative. It’s basically just made by blending up soaked dates and water and filtering the mixture through a cheesecloth. Since date syrup has a very rich flavour profile, it’s not a perfect honey substitute in terms of flavour.

What is honey made out of?

In order to transform watery nectar into the thick and sweet substance known as honey, a complex chemical process takes place. This chemical process ultimately reduces the water content of the nectar and converts its sucrose into glucose and fructose. While honey is composed of at least 181 components, it’s mostly made up of water and sugar. Honey also contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, pollen, and more.

How is honey made?

Honey begins as nectar, a sweet liquid that is produced by flowers to attract pollinators. Bees are drawn to pollen and nectar for their protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients. They drink the nectar and store the rest of it in their stomach. After collecting as much nectar as possible, they take it back to the hive, where they then regurgitate it. Workers bees pass the honey through their mouths in order to reduce its water content to about 18%. Reducing the nectar’s water content extends its shelf life, and creates what is known as honey. The honey is stored throughout winter in the hive so that the bee colony can feed its larvae in the spring and early summer. According to Science Focus, 12 bees will work their entire lifetime in order to create just 1 teaspoon of honey.

Are bees animals?

Bees are winged insects that belong to the Animalia kingdom, also known as the Animal Kingdom. Animals are often associated with four-legged creatures, however, the Animal Kingdom is divided into several classes and sub-classes. A few of the most common animal classes include mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, and of course, insects. For that reason, all insects are animals.